The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be
achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far
less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four
months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.
The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting
oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious
security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.
"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or
what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy
since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors
of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."
Administration officials still emphasize how much they have achieved despite
the chaos that followed the invasion and the escalating insurgency. "Iraqis
are taking control of their country, building a free nation that can govern
itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And we're helping Iraqis succeed,"
President Bush said yesterday in his radio address.
Iraqi officials yesterday struggled to agree on a draft constitution by a deadline
of tomorrow so the document can be submitted to a vote in October. The political
transition would be completed in December by elections for a permanent government.
But the realities of daily life are a constant reminder of how the initial
U.S. ambitions have not been fulfilled in ways that Americans and Iraqis once
anticipated. Many of Baghdad's 6 million people go without electricity for days
in 120-degree heat. Parents fearful of kidnapping are keeping children indoors.
Barbers post signs saying they do not shave men, after months of barbers being
killed by religious extremists. Ethnic or religious-based militias police the
northern and southern portions of Iraq. Analysts estimate that in the whole
of Iraq, unemployment is 50 percent to 65 percent.
U.S. officials say no turning point forced a reassessment. "It happened
rather gradually," said the senior official, triggered by everything from
the insurgency to shifting budgets to U.S. personnel changes in Baghdad.
The ferocious debate over a new constitution has particularly driven home the
gap between the original U.S. goals and the realities after almost 28 months.
The U.S. decision to invade Iraq was justified in part by the goal of establishing
a secular and modern Iraq that honors human rights and unites disparate ethnic
and religious communities.
But whatever the outcome on specific disputes, the document on which Iraq's
future is to be built will require laws to be compliant with Islam. Kurds and
Shiites are expecting de facto long-term political privileges. And women's rights
will not be as firmly entrenched as Washington has tried to insist, U.S. officials
and Iraq analysts say.
"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will
have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar
with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would
speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "That process is being
repeated all over."
U.S. officials now acknowledge that they misread the strength of the sentiment
among Kurds and Shiites to create a special status. The Shiites' request this
month for autonomy to be guaranteed in the constitution stunned the Bush administration,
even after more than two years of intense intervention in Iraq's political process,
"We didn't calculate the depths of feeling in both the Kurdish and Shiite
communities for a winner-take-all attitude," said Judith S. Yaphe, a former
CIA Iraq analyst at the National Defense University.
In the race to meet a sequence of fall deadlines, the process of forging national
unity behind the constitution is largely being scrapped, current and former
officials involved in the transition said.
"We are definitely cutting corners and lowering our ambitions in democracy
building," said Larry Diamond, a Stanford University democracy expert who
worked with the U.S. occupation government and wrote the book "Squandered
Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to
"Under pressure to get a constitution done, they've lowered their own
ambitions in terms of getting a document that is going to be very far-reaching
and democratic. We also don't have the time to go through the process we envisioned
when we wrote the interim constitution -- to build a democratic culture and
consensus through debate over a permanent constitution," he said.
The goal now is to ensure a constitution that can be easily amended later so
Iraq can grow into a democracy, U.S. officials say.
On security, the administration originally expected the U.S.-led coalition
to be welcomed with rice and rosewater, traditional Arab greetings, with only
a limited reaction from loyalists of ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
The surprising scope of the insurgency and influx of foreign fighters has forced
Washington to repeatedly lower expectations -- about the time-frame for quelling
the insurgency and creating an effective and cohesive Iraqi force capable of
stepping in, U.S. officials said.
Killings of members of the Iraqi security force have tripled since January.
Iraq's ministry of health estimates that bombings and other attacks have killed
4,000 civilians in Baghdad since Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari's interim government
took office April 28.
Last week was the fourth-worst week of the whole war for U.S. military deaths
in combat, and August already is the worst month for deaths of members of the
National Guard and Reserve.
Attacks on U.S. convoys by insurgents using roadside bombs have doubled over
the past year, Army Brig. Gen. Yves Fontaine said Friday. Convoys ferrying food,
fuel, water, arms and equipment from Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey are attacked
about 30 times a week, Fontaine said.
"There has been a realistic reassessment of what it is possible to achieve
in the short term and fashion a partial exit strategy," Yaphe said. "This
change is dictated not just by events on the ground but by unrealistic expectations
at the start."
Washington now does not expect to fully defeat the insurgency before departing,
but instead to diminish it, officials and analysts said. There is also growing
talk of turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqi forces even if they
are not fully up to original U.S. expectations, in part because they have local
legitimacy that U.S. troops often do not.
"We've said we won't leave a day before it's necessary. But necessary
is the key word -- necessary for them or for us? When we finally depart, it
will probably be for us," a U.S. official said.
Pressed by the cost of fighting an escalating insurgency, U.S. expectations
for rebuilding Iraq -- and its $20 billion investment -- have fallen the farthest,
current and former officials say.
Pentagon officials originally envisioned Iraq's oil revenue paying many post-invasion
expenses. But Iraq, ranked among world leaders behind Saudi Arabia in proven
oil reserves, is incapable of producing enough refined fuel amid a car-buying
boom that has put an estimated 1 million more vehicles on the road after the
invasion. Lines for subsidized cheap gas stretch for miles every day in Baghdad.
Oil production is estimated at 2.22 million barrels a day, short of the goal
of 2.5 million. Iraq's pre-war high was 2.67 million barrels a day.
The United States had high hopes of quick, big-budget fixes for the electrical
power system that would show Iraqis tangible benefits from the ouster of Hussein.
But inadequate training for Iraqi staff, regional rivalries restricting the
power flow to Baghdad, inadequate fuel for electrical generators and attacks
on the infrastructure have contributed to the worst summer of electrical shortages
in the capital.
Water is also a "tough, tough" situation in a desert country, said
a U.S. official in Baghdad familiar with reconstruction issues. Pumping stations
depend on electricity, and engineers now say the system has hundreds of thousands
"The most thoroughly dashed expectation was the ability to build a robust
self-sustaining economy. We're nowhere near that. State industries, electricity
are all below what they were before we got there," said Wayne White, former
head of the State Department's Iraq intelligence team who is now at the Middle
East Institute. "The administration says Saddam ran down the country. But
most damage was from looting [after the invasion], which took down state industries,
large private manufacturing, the national electric" system.
Ironically, White said, the initial ambitions may have complicated the U.S.
mission: "In order to get out earlier, expectations are going to have to
be lower, even much lower. The higher your expectation, the longer you have
to stay. Getting out is going to be a more important consideration than the
original goals were. They were unrealistic."